Local North Carolina mountain communities can count on tourists in the autumn, when the leaves are changing and the air is cooler, and during the summer months, when the views are breathtaking and outdoor activities are plentiful. But winter, which is often overlooked as a mountain traveling season, might actually be the best time to visit. For one thing, the off-peak season can be less expensive; for another, locations are frequently less crowded. Take advantage of the winter season by playing tourist in your own state. Your visits support NC communities and help fight off the winter blues.
Get Active: Skiing, Tubing, and Sledding
The town of Beech Mountain is nestled at an altitude 5,506 feet above sea level, and holds the title of the 10th highest US city. Snow and cooler temps make this mountain the perfect place for winter activities. There’s the traditional skiing and snowboarding, but also snowshoeing, tubing, and sledding. Beech Mountain Resort covers 95 acres of ski terrain. Skiers can relax with a panoramic view offered at the 5506’ Skybar at the top of the resort.
Cataloochee Ski Area offers 18 slopes and trails for skiing, snowboarding, and tubing. At an elevation of 5,400 feet, the Maggie Valley ski lodge rents equipment for both eager beginners and seasoned pros. If natural snow doesn’t fall, Cataloochee makes its own with one of the most advanced snow-making systems in the state.
Sapphire Valley Ski Area sits at 3,400 feet and offers both skiing and tubing. For avid snow tubers, this is the place to be. The Sapphire Valley attraction provides a 500-foot snow tubing run with multiple lanes. This area is less crowded, so the wait times to hit the slopes are not as long.
Get Exploring: Indoor Adventures
Winter at the Biltmore Estate offers a glamorous indoor alternative for those who want to explore without skis. The largest home in the US is tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains and opened in 1895 as the home of the wealthy Vanderbilt family. It hosts a staggering 175,000 square feet (four acres) with 33 bedrooms, 65 fireplaces, and 43 bathrooms. (Wear your hiking boots instead of your snow shoes!) While peak time weekend prices are the same, value weekday tickets can offer savings of $10 per ticket.
For those with a sweet tooth, the French Broad Chocolate Lounge and the French Broad Chocolates Factory & Tasting Room offer a cozy hideaway for hot chocolate sipping and warming up in style. Choose from organic, made-from-scratch goodies like brownies, chocolate bars, cakes, and cookies. The factory is in a different location than the lounge, and offers a behind-the-scenes look at making treats from beans to chocolate bars, with guided tours on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and shorter walkthrough tours the rest of the weekend.
Get Pampered: Spas and Resorts
The Spa at the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville is the crème de la crème for mountain relaxation. It’s 43,000 square feet of peace and quiet, with 20 water features including mineral-based pools, contrast pools, and therapeutic waterfall pools. Breathe out the stress in inhalation rooms, saunas, and eucalyptus-infused steam rooms, and soak up the warmth by the fire in a lounge.
The Asheville Salt Cave is the spot to get rid of a salty attitude and just relax. The cave is a literal man-made cavern, with 9-foot ceilings and 20 tons of pure pink salt. Temperature-controlled and free of toxins, the anti-bacterial properties of the salt cave mimic a naturally occurring cave. Massages, yoga, and aromatherapy salt glows are all on the menu.
If salt water is more your style, the Asheville spa Still Point Wellness offers healing waters to float your troubles away. Start with Salt Water Floatation (aka sensory deprivation), a warm water soak that allows you to float on 1,500 pounds of Epsom-salted waters in a float tank. The experience relieves tension from muscles, and the lack of stimulation encourages a clear mind.
What’s your favorite winter activity in the NC mountains? Did we miss anything amazing? Share your faves in our comments or on Facebook.